At the second meeting for the Rural Cause on Sept. 26, the first item on the agenda was placemats. Catherine Gouchoe ’19, director of community relations for the Rural Cause, showed the group an image of a childrens’ farm-to-table placemat that she had found online. They brainstormed about potential versions of this placemat that they could design for their booth at this year’s Harvest Festival, in order to educate local children about how local food arrives on their plate.
Since the club’s founding last year, the Rural Cause has received several invitations like this to participate in Knox County’s life and politics.
The Rural Cause is a student group led by Dan Napsha ’21 and Sigal Felber, ’21, which connects Kenyon’s student body to the area in which they live. Napsha founded the organization due to frustration with the lack of information the College provides to its students abour the surrounding county.
“As someone who comes from a more urban area, coming here, I sort of just turtled,” said Elly Zhang ’21, who recently joined the organization. “I couldn’t just walk around the city, you know? Your everyday life is shaped by the place that you’re in. If there was more information thrown at me as to how to do things or get around, it would’ve been helpful.”
This year, the group has hosted “Life Off the Hill,” an unofficial information session that introduced students to Knox County, and also printed pamphlets of similar information. Their goals for the future aim much higher: designing a mail insert to send to admitted students on life in rural Ohio, creating an alumni network of agricultural workers, pushing for further Admissions outreach to rural areas and hanging informational posters around campus on life outside of Kenyon.
One concept for these informational posters is a “Burst Kenyon Bubbles” series that would communicate the experience of an average college student in America, which is far different than those of Kenyon students. Typically, college students are in their late 20’s, attend community college, and, in certain state schools, up to 40 percent of students suffer from food insecurity, according to Napsha.
Over the years, Kenyon has put forward multiple initiatives to connect Kenyon students to the local community. At the Kenyon Farm, students learn to be a part of the agricultural world, and the Rural Life Center hosts classes, public projects and events on rural topics. “There’s been a movement in this direction,” said Napsha, “but I just wanted to take a step further.”
Gouchoe recognizes the possibility that Knox County residents could view the Rural cause as patronizing, but is hopeful that the organization will be fair and empathetic. “I think there’s a way to do that — there are going to be complications,” Gouchoe said, “and it’s going to take a lot of research, but there is a way for us to do that.”
“I can’t do this alone,” Napsha said. “There are other people that want to make this happen, so we needed to have an organization. The students needed to organize.”